Malaysia's highest court today found news portal Malaysiakini in contempt of court over comments posted by readers deemed offensive to the judiciary, in a case widely seen as a test of media freedom in the Southeast Asian nation.
Last year, Malaysia's attorney-general filed an application to cite Malaysiakini and editor-in-chief Steven Gan for contempt of court over five comments posted by readers on its website that it said undermined public confidence in the judiciary.
In a six to one decision on Friday, a panel in the Federal Court ruled that Malaysiakini held full responsibility for its website, including whatever is published.
The panel, however, found Gan not guilty of the offence. It is unlikely Malaysiakini will be able to appeal the verdict since the case was heard before the country's highest court.
Malaysiakini and Gan have maintained they could not be held responsible and the offending comments had been immediately removed after they were contacted by police.
Gan and Malaysiakini's legal team could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday with the court still in session and ahead of a sentence being announced.
In January, Gan said reporters should not "give up" in the face of what he described as "harassment" by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's government.
He said in the two decades since he founded Malaysiakini, its journalists had been declared traitors, faced debilitating cyber-attacks, kicked out of press conferences, arrested, and raided by the police.
Malaysia has moved up the World Press Freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders in recent years. But rights groups have said freedom of speech and freedom of the press face renewed pressure after an unexpected change to a Muhyiddin government in March last year.
The government had denied that it was clamping down on media freedom.